Leaping with no net: autism for teens in Ontario

Last Thursday night, I attended a 2 hour session for parents of autistic children, run by one of our local support providers, Kerry’s Place, titled: Planning for Transition to Adulthood. Our son is 14, in grade 9, and as the presenters said, “it’s an optimal time to start planning.”  The room was set up poorly with yucky flourescent lighting, a variety of chairs, and some flip up tables.  Bottled water, and chocolate chip cookies were offered but most people had brought their Tim’s.  The projector was mounted in a way that made the size of the screen about 36 x24, and a ream of handouts were given to us.

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 9.06.41 PMSo when I say “our local”, I mean that Kerry’s Place is one of really 2 providers that can offer my family anything as we live in Elora, Ontario.  It hasn’t always been this way.  [insert a brief history on Autism funding changes in Ontario since diagnosis.]  Our son was diagnosed when he was in grade 2, at the age of 7.  It was a long time coming, and we did it privately, structuring the payments for the required psycho-educational assessment over two calendar years.  At the time, he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS which stands for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not otherwise specified).  Then the definition of autism changed (around 2013) and the amount of funding for autism didn’t increase, but the umbrella that we were all standing under got a little smaller.  That’s not quite the right analogy…we were hopeful that with an all-encompassing definition that support for autism would be more generalized but more plentiful.  But really what everyone needs is a different umbrella, after all if you’ve met one person with autism….you’ve met one person with autism.

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Services at this time became more centralized….and that means focused on cities.  I get it, I really do, it’s a numbers game.  But at the same time, specialized groups in schools, or local camps for students, started to evaporate.  It’s a really old, really hard-to-win argument….should we integrate or should we offer specialized programming?  Our board, for example, has tried to make each school able to support its local students with autistic needs.  Yet, the hubs in the schools for autistic students have disappeared.

Right now, our family has been on the waiting list for 2 1/2 years for ABA treatment.  He has received two sessions since his diagnosis, and his spectrum traits are not severe at all. We compensate by trying to find awesome, autism-supporting groups in the community where he can be himself, and get some social experience.  But the needs are still there.  Needs like finding others like himself.  He says “Being with people who are not on the spectrum, is like eating toast without the butter.” That’s a direct quote.  I feel like I’m always telling my son who he could be, and he needs opportunities to develop his own identity and to recognize his strengths for advocacy, for education, for employment.

Thursday’s workshop was quite intimidating.  As our son moves from 14 to 18, the programming becomes further away from us geographically.  We’ll need to think about education, transportation, legal rights to care/intervention, housing, all the things you normally need to think about preparing for an empty nest….except I’ll always be thinking: will he survive or thrive in this environment?  Having local, continuous support, will be one of those key pieces that make the difference.  We learned in our workshop about critical funding supports for each of these that will require hours of preparation and planning, priming and probably panic for each of our children to be the best version of them as adults.

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With the proposed changes to autism funding, to both communities and the absorption by our publicly-funded schools, we are facing dire consequences.  You see, the programs and funding for children with autism are already lacking if not non-existent, especially in Centre Wellington, so cuts will just mean impossible situations for families.

This summer, I am reaching a little further for a suitable summer camp as our local one has been cancelled…again.  The camp I’m looking at looks absolutely fantastic, with a 1:3 ratio of counsellors to campers, but the cost, even for a double-income family like ours, might be prohibitive.  I called our local office of Child and Family Services to inquire about funding maybe in a loophole under ‘child care’ or ‘support services’, and it doesn’t exist.  The camp itself gave me a list of charities that might help with funding and I will diligently go through them one by one asking, explaining, and hoping.  But can you imagine if I wasn’t a persistent, educated parent or if my son’s needs were greater or if I had more than one child with special needs or if I couldn’t drive let alone summon the courage to write all those emails? With each variable, the severity of this lack of funding is compounded.  There were people at our meeting who had driven for 2 hours to be there….it’s offered in a central area, once a year.  Can you imagine the vast array of reasons that might make the parent of an autistic child unable to attend that meeting?

Post script: I have to recommend that you read the book: Neurotribes by author Steve Silberman http://stevesilberman.com/book/neurotribes/— It’s available by audiobook as well as in print, and if, like me, you do a lot of travelling, then the audiobook is very digestible.  I’ve never read a more complete book on autism and the challenges that society faces going forward than in this book.

Is there anything more sad…

Sheets

Is there anything more sad than a bed half-empty that was once half-full? The thought came rolling around in Aria’s mind every time she approached her bed at night. Likewise when she rolled over each morning to stare at the space where her left arm now fell lifeless, daring to expand across the halfway point that used to separate her from her Theo.  With Theo’s absence, her body had started to wander into this space usually reserved for him, but she couldn’t shake the guilt that she was encroaching on his territory even though he wasn’t there to occupy it.

There was a time when Aria looked forward to Theo’s trips, having the bed to herself for one, but also being able to choose the simple differences like eating only what she wanted for dinner, and going for a walk with her hound, Laela, on her schedule.  Aria felt the sun’s warmth before she saw it knowing that it was slowly clearing away the night’s cold sea fog.  She summoned the courage to open her eyes, yawn and pull her nightgown down past her waist where it had crept up to in her slumber.  She  moved barefoot across the floor to his chair, the one with the best view of the ocean crashing on the rocks below. The woolen throw that he often kept nearby had lost his scent after only a few weeks but still Aria wrapped herself in it, tugging the corners under her chin, inhaling deeply to find the fragrance of his musk.  Only the stronger tug of goat hair came through though, and the emptiness left her feeling chilled despite the weight of the heavy blanket.

Aria picked at a few dates and seeds on a nearby plate having abandoned the rich cheese and bread noshes that she had indulged in when Theo first left.  Instead her fingers moved to the knitting beside her, a blanket that she had begun to add another layer to the bed dressing now that rainy season was approaching, and in an effort to bring back the same cozy feeling when Theo was home.  Soon the click click of her needles increased in speed with each stitch beginning to match the tide rolling in, her breathing keeping pace and her mind contentedly occupied with this satisfying mechanical action.

In this lull, Aria became aware of a bell ringing, a strong dull sound masked by the distance and at first Aria wasn’t sure that she was hearing anything at all.  Doubting her own senses, she tried to continue her work but couldn’t concentrate having been distracted by the sound, she couldn’t. The fisherwoman had already brought her the weekly supply of food yesterday.  Her mother-in-law had not written of a possible visit. Who could be approaching the island and why? Sighing with irritation, Aria rose from her chair, and moved to put on a gown in case a visitor actually was on the way. Slipping into her simple leather sandals, she grabbed the woolen throw and opened the door for Laela to bark her way down to the pier.

How to coddle a volunteer

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This week I finished my volunteer stint as co-planner for the Ontario School Library Association, which for a rough estimate, is about 100 hours per year.  As one of the best volunteer experiences of my life, I’d like to take you through why it’s such a fine way to give your time back to your profession.  The Ontario Library Association celebrated its 25th anniversary of this conference this year and so it has honed the craft of finding and retaining volunteers to a fine art.  Here’s what they do really well to make sure their volunteers are happy.

Partners

There’s a legacy structure to the planning committee so that 1/2 are returning to plan a 2nd year, and the other 1/2 are new to the role.  My senior co-planner Jess Longthorne in 2018, and my junior co-planner Diana Maliszewski in 2019 are both elementary teacher-librarians.  Having this diversity in our team helped us to better cover the full spectrum of needs.  Collaboration is hard work and I would always prefer to parallel play but this enforced structure helped me grow in my ability to communicate and share ideas.

Advocacy to supervisors

Without any question whatsover, OLA provided a letter and 5 paid supply days to my principal to cover my 5 absences for this planning.

Fancy red vests

Each of the 23 Superconference co-planners was loaned a red vest to wear from sunset on Tuesday to sundown on Friday and we wore them with pride.  I felt like part of an elite club, or a magnificent unit mobilizing to make OLASC perfection.

Biology needs taken care of or at the ready

I had a glorious hotel room onsite at the Superconference.  Whenever I was hungry, there was good healthy food.  My car was safe and dry.  Whether it was at the 2 days of planning we did at the OLA office, or at HQ at the conference itself, I was well-fed, comfortable and my sense of security was a priority.

Wiggle room

I felt enormous responsibility in choosing sessions and our spotlight speakers for the Superconference.  We wanted quality and edge.  We wanted diversity and inclusivity.  We wanted to have a fabulously rich experience for each attendee.  Michelle Arbuckle and her team had a number of strategies for helping us ideate and design just such a schedule.  At the same time, we were given freedom to develop the conference theme within our own context and to choose speakers that matched our own vision.

Clear instructions

Even before we began, we were given a schedule to follow for the whole year.  We were told which meetings would be face-to-face and what our goals would be.  This really helped me to stay on track and once I added them to a Google Calendar, it helped us remember to check in with one another.

Clear help

In the moment at Superconference, even enormous amounts of pre-planning can’t prepare you for everything.  We used Slack to build channels where we could ask for help and receive it at a moment’s notice.  Because we had this reliable help structure, we took greater creative risks.  For example, Diana and I worked this year to bring in Stephen Hurley from VoicEd.ca to podcast some of our sessions.  Stephen just needed a quick lesson from the tech people to get started.  In another moment, Peter Skillen from Code to Learn offered free books for all OSLA participants but we had to get those books from one floor to another.  No problem, people helped us anticipate how to make that flow from floor to floor.

Long leashes

Our only instruction really is to: show up, make sure everything goes smoothly and sometimes, make sure everyone is having fun.  So I really enjoyed taking the conference theme seriously and dragging my costume out for the welcome party, or making sure I had a 90s song ready for karaoke.

Someone to tug at the end of the leash and reign me back in

There are these awkward/funny moments when Michelle (both years in a row), wants us to all show up and look shiny for a group photo, or drink champagne en masse, or lead the fun at one of the socials.  Having these scheduled times to show up as a red vest collective really helped us to signal to conference attendees that this is where you can be welcome and be social.  For a group of introverts (or at best ambiverts), this is a really important part of the superconference.

A reasonable bedtime

All of our social events ended at 10 pm.  Lord knows that I am not great at self-regulation and can be too easily persuaded to push myself to the edge, so having limits set for me is wonderful.  I felt no pressure at all to stay out too late by the official ending of a social event.

Breakfast

…is my favourite meal of the day and 2 of the 3 mornings of Superconference I had a planned breakfast meeting.  More groups should do meetings this way.  Here’s your energy, here’s what you need to know, now go forth and make awesome things happen for everyone else all day.

A little music goes a long way

There were moments where my feet were telling me that they just couldn’t go on, and then someone would play some funky tunes and I found my next wind.

Have an exit plan

The plan is for all superconference planners that you’ll do it twice.  Knowing that there is a finite ending has really helped me prepare emotionally for this post-planners trough.  I’m sort of sad that I won’t be able to hang out all the time with the new friends I’ve met on the planning committee, but I’m also looking forward to remembering what I did before.  Heck I might even blog more often.  I can feel myself thinking to warn incoming OSLA Superconference planner Kate Johnson-McGregor about Diana’s total lack of focus (I mean who drops to their knees to create a poster in the middle of a sandbox?) but the fun in volunteering in a collaborative format, is to find out these things for yourself.  Volunteering for the Ontario Library Association has been a rich journey in my own professional development as a school library leader and as an agent of change.

I’ll just close with this dangerous sentiment:

I’m available now for new volunteering opportunities.  But I should warn you, I’ve had the best so my standards are pretty high.

 

Looking back on my PD journey in 2018 in #OntEd

Waking up to more cutbacks in #ontEd funding is never fun.  So I decided to look at the data.  This post is all about the different ways I developed professionally in 2018.  There were so many great happenings around the province this year.  It never ceases me to amaze me the passion that Ontario educators have for generating their own professional development, voluntarily with a little help from organizations to cover classrooms, and provide accommodation and transportation.  In an effort to be radically transparent, I’m going to try to use these hashtags so you can see where the funding comes for me to be able to participate in these events:

#self-funded = one way or another I usually provide transportation, accommodation, registration, resources for myself in order to be able to attend.  I need idealistic people in my life in order to take the creative risks that I do so for me, it’s worth it.  #babyI’mworthit

#OLA = Ontario Library Association, I have volunteered for the Ontario School Library Association (my school library subject association) for 5 years now.

#UGDSB = The Upper Grand District School Board does backflips to try to make sure that its staff are well-supported.  I love working here.  As a weirdo school-librarian, eLearning teacher I have lots of strangely specific needs for PD and UGDSB always helps me somehow.

#OTF = Ontario Teachers’ Federation is invaluable as a resource for professional development.

#OSSTF = Ontario Secondary Schools’ Teachers’ Federation is the union representing many education sectors in Ontario including teachers.  They have started to really recognize their value as providers of professional development in a new, reinvigorated way.  I like this direction a lot!

Of course we have to start with the incomparable work done by the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference in January 2019.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski.  Having an elementary expert alongside my deviant secondary brain has made a marvellous madness of Superconference elements.  There’s something for everyone.  I’m really really looking forward to our line up of outstanding school library speakers, our inaugural OLA Sandbox of makers and maker strategies, and our OSLA Spotlight speaker Chelsea Klukas. #OLA

My board UGDSB Applied Strategy workshops with Sandra Herbst involved 4 release days to work with consultants and the incomparable SH to appeal to our applied-level students through strategies on the triangulation of assessment.  Having this time to hyperfocus helped my school create valuable tools and shifts in thinking towards using conversation and observation more effectively each teaching day. #UGDSB

I completed a webinar series from Edugains and Brian Weishar on inference with my colleagues in the UGDSB. It was so rich and so informative that it has immediately become part of my teaching practice both in the classroom and as part of my school library program.  Brian must spend hours making these webinars as they are hugely interactive and use all sorts of critical thinking activities.  I can’t find the webinars anywhere on the Edugains website, but there are some inference resources.  Better yet: here’s Brian’s blog. #self-funded I was able to take some of these great ideas and share them with UGDSB’s literacy leaders because our own UGDSB optimist Sandy Kritzer believes in me. #UGDSB

I have to let you know that there is this secret underground lair where professional development is happening called VoicEd Canada and it is awesome.  My guru who lead me here is Stephen Hurley and although he does a lot of the work, he is joined by amazing educators across the country!  There’s always something going on and their podcasts are archived.  Hello!  Archive your stuff people so we can use it later!! #self-funded

FOLD
FOLD publishes a regular list for diverse Canadian reading.

Where do you get the best reading lists in Ontario?  From Amnesty International Canada’s bookshelf and from the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD).  If I’m marking something to read that’s relevant to me both as a human and as a teacher in an Ontario secondary school, it probably comes from one of these two sources.

The first shoutout to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation for their series of webinars called OTF Connects.  I have participated in numerous webinars but the quality of the content in these is generally wonderful.  I even tried one myself!  Big thanks to Trish Morgan for keeping this resource alive for Ontario educators. #OTF

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The important work of unions.

My own union OSSTF has done some remarkable re-engagement work for its members this year.  As someone who has served on my branch’s executive every year since 2000, this important work needs to be supported, and I really appreciate the way that District 18 has held  rejuvenating local workshops for its members.  #OSSTF

PD Todd Pottle
Todd Pottle visits elearning teachers at UGDSB

As an elearning teacher in the UGDSB, I am really well taken care of.  Sean Hamilton and Pam Eurig recognize that we are doing ground-breaking work to make online learning a viable and dynamic experience for students.  They even convinced the fabulous Todd Pottle to visit Guelph one day.  able supported to attend both the CONNECT conference and the BOLTT conference each year.  Both conferences offer different foci for different audiences.  ELearning is best supported at BOLTT but CONNECT’s work is better-grounded in the research. #UGDSB #self-funded

I’m still fondly remembering the work done by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation on their 2 day Wellness conference in the spring.  I learned a lot about self-preservation, balance and remembering that every interaction with students can make a difference in their mental health.  Highlights: dancing my understanding of support networks with Leigha Turner and Jenn Coleman #OTF

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Asking Eden Robinson a question!

I am thrilled by the success of our ODSS staff summer book club reading Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. UGDSB’s own Colinda Clyne has been very gracious in provoking and promoting FNMI voices and she provided us with many many books this year. She even visited one of our meetings and brought cookies.  #rockstar  It was so successful that we also co-read Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers.  I have hopes that this will continue in 2019, possibly starting with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, who visits Brampton’s Rose Theatre in February 2019. #UGDSB #self-funded

This is the 3rd year that I have presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Pedagogy B4 Technology conference, in Markham, Ontario  and I thrilled to do it.  This conference’s focus on the practice of teaching with the use of technological tools is just right for it’s length, breadth and optimism!  I look forward to it because the questions and the speakers really motivate me to focus inwards on my own educational values, and I return to my school feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. #OTF

PD Mindomo
Tina Ginglo’s course inspired this Mindomo reflection.

I was so motivated and enthused by the idea that I was stepping back into the classroom again as the new creative writing teacher at ODSS, that I INSANELY signed up to take Tina Ginglo‘s Writing Part 1 AQ through York University.  I’m only insane because of the time commitment not because the course isn’t AWESOME.  And this awesomeness is what got me through because as a veteran teacher of 21 years, I STILL learned something and was thrilled to have time to focus on my teaching practice of writing itself, to gather new resources, and to develop really practical tools for teaching writing.  Thank you Tina! #self-funded

I have admired the work of ECOO for years and they have propelled me into being that person at school that people rely on for innovation and technical support.  Imagine a world where self-professed geeks and nerds want to show you their cool stuff for 3 days and you have, what is now known as the, Bring IT Together conference. My favourite day is the first one, where you get to hyperfocus on hands-on learning in workshops that are 1/2 day.  This year I chose to work on 2 topics: gamification using BreakoutEDU and computational thinking through knitting.  I learned so much from Kim Gill and Lisa Noble and I am still working on these ideas.   I usually apply to present so that my registration is subsidized but this is harder to do each year without additional support.  #self-funded #UGDSB

What’s next in 2019?  We’ll see.  I know, as well as you do, that we’re entering leaner times.  I wanted to write this post to remind myself as well as you that there are many many opportunities for PD.  Just because we can’t always get together face-to-face doesn’t mean that we can’t learn.

All the best for a happy new year of professional development.

 

Creating the ideal writing program

What are the components of a great writing program for students?

A great writing program for students has structure and freedom, allows for choice but also sets parameters, it teaches technique and reliable devices but allows for discovery while building skills and discipline.  It needs to use models for writing that stretch the horizons of the students and also has a diverse set of cultural and historical texts to appeal to student interests and contexts. It needs to involve the full cycle of the writing process on more than one occasion and also at different depth levels.  It needs to promote analysis and self-metacognition.

Assessment allows for students to repeat a process multiple times to see growth in key areas throughout the semester.  Assessment needs to be personalized and measure individual growth over time. It needs to allow for students to develop a portfolio of best work but should emphasize process as much as product.

It should allow for collaborative work manifesting a classroom culture of trust and reliance among students.  Peer assessment and feedback that is timely and constructively critical should be the goal. Multiple modes of expression using various levels of technology should be promoted.  Above all various community experts and authentic audiences should be employed to heighten the authenticity of the writing program.

These are the goals I aim to hit every day in my writing program.  I don’t always hit a a bulls-eye, but my aim is true.

Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson

Trickster DriftTrickster Drift by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eden Robinson you have created such delicious characters. If Jared or Georgina or any of them knocked at my door and said, “There’s an emergency! The coy wolves are eating the dolphin people and they need your help!” I’d shape-shift into my amphibious alter-ego, take their hands and jump into another dimension. I want to believe and Robinson’s books have helped him get closer than ever.

Jared’s enemies are worthy of his gradual transformation in that they are both based in a harsh reality and so unspeakably evil that they must be fantastical. As Jared realizes his true self and increasingly gravitates towards magic, the revenge that the reader seeks becomes enticingly like a feast laid out on a table.

I devoured this sequel after picking it up like a true fangirl at one of Robinson’s more corporeal visits in Oakville last month. You know when you’re reading a great book and it calls to you when you have to leave it to go back to reality? This is that book.

If you’ve read and enjoyed (of if you’ve finished these two books and are waiting impatiently for the third like me):
Half World and Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I hope Ms. Robinson gets to hang out with these authors, and if not, maybe we could arrange a party in her honour and I could simply serve canapes while eavesdropping on their banter. I am going to get everything else she’s ever written, right now.

View all my reviews

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a TricksterSon of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A set of this book was generously purchased for our school by our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI)consultant at the board office. 5 pages into it many of our teachers were too scared to teach it and put it down. Boldly daring to say “You can’t scare me!” Eden Robinson, I read the whole thing ….you know, with my ‘I love reading anything fantasy’ brain, not with my ‘I run a secondary school library and must consider my sensitive audience’ brain. And I loved it! Would I teach it to a whole class at once? No. But we summoned our courage to offer it as a selection to senior level English classes in a literature circle format, and it was chosen, read and students loved it.

And who wouldn’t? There’s a healthy amount of crass language, for sure, but that shouldn’t keep readers away from Robinson’s rich characters and the trouble that Jared encounters.

As an FNMI choice, Robinson introduces us to some Heiltsuk beliefs but not in an instructional way. I mean, I feel enticed to know more about the culture but not in a way that is pedantic or alienating. As a reader, I’ve been invited to participate in an immersive cultural experience set in modern day but with timeless implications for these stories. I think this approach will also be appealing to readers.

After hearing Robinson speak this month in Oakville, I hope she would be happy to learn that this book doesn’t belong in an FNMI canon of literature but instead as part of a canon of great writing. As someone who enjoys fantasy fiction, who is open to new ideas, cultures and language, and as someone who certainly wants to understand truth and be part of reconciliation, I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Celebrating school libraries today!

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I am the Head of the Library and Learning Commons at my secondary school, and that means I work 4/6 in the library, 1/6 in a EWC 4C/4U classroom, and 1/6 in a fully online ENG4C class.  I have held this role since 2010 with variations on which classes I teach.  So my year as the school librarian is divided between

a) making sure that the library has a culture reflecting the learning commons philosophy b) advocating for the use of technology in the classroom and helping students and staff do this and

c) making sure that students and staff are using everything that is available to them for inquiry-based research.

As Head of the Library and Learning Commons, I additionally go to every staff and department head meeting and I am the Literacy Lead for our school planning all interventions for our standardized literacy test in grade 10.  As you can imagine, this work keeps me hopping!

2 of our foundational documents are:

Together for Learning http://www.togetherforlearning.ca/t4l-vision-document/

Canadian School Libraries Leading Learning http://llsop.canadianschoollibraries.ca/

If you’re new to the learning commons shift, then you’ll find both really interesting.  If you’re already shifting your school culture to include learning commons then jump to Leading Learning, because I talk to my principal all the time using this sort of rubric to say “This is where we are and this is where we need to get to”.

The Manitoba School Library Association is PHENOMENAL) and is really pushing boundaries in your province.  Tomorrow is National School Library Day in Manitoba Canada and Manitoba’s provincial parliament will be reading a bilingual address about the importance of school libraries for student success.  Oh that we could make this happen nationwide.

A smaller ask then….

Would you please have a conversation or write a letter to someone with power and/or influence to make sure that the work and necessity of school libraries is valued and recognized?  Across Canada we need to have equitable staffing and per-pupil budgeting models in all publicly funded schools.  We need to have diverse print and digital resources available for all staff and students.  We need to recognize that the literacy work of school library staff is foundational for student success.  We need to have school libraries open during and beyond school hours to allow for the messiness of robust inquiry-based projects.

I am so thankful for my devoted library teaching partner and my wonderful library technician.  I am so thankful for a principal and a school board that recognizes the value of this work.  Celebrate with me! To school libraries across Canada!

Put all your money down on literacy intervention

After reading Reading and Writing: The Golden Ticket, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as both teacher-librarian and Literacy Lead in my job.  The article is very stimulating if you’ve got a minute.

I really felt motivated by the article from the Globe and Mail, and although I know this course is about writing, my current passion for helping students in my school become proficient on the OSSLT, is to focus on their reading.  Very often we put our attention on the output, writing, but the really tricky part for secondary teachers in particular, is to focus on reading, or the input of language ideas.

 I’m the Literacy Lead in my school and this is a fairly new role for me in that I’m taking this lead position for the 2nd year..  What that looks like is that I’m designing the literacy interventions that we’re going to make happen for our grade 9s and 10s this year.  We know that we’re hitting a fairly consistent 81% success rate with our test results (above board and province average) but this doesn’t seem to make a difference for the other 19%.

19%.  19%.  19% .

I say that over and over again because that’s nearly 1 in 5 of our students.  The administration seems to only be concerned with looking good on paper and we’re 1 of 3 schools in our board who raised a % in our success rate.  The rest is up to me to make happen.

We have an early intervention course, similar to what is described in the article that is run in grade 9 who are deemed at-risk by their grade 8 teachers. Unfortunately this course is often taught by brand new teachers or teachers who lack the commitment to the continuity of this crucial piece because they’re LTOs.  I wish that someone like the senior English teachers, would teach it instead.  I asked if I could teach it and they gave me creative writing grade 12 instead.  Not that it’s a horrible trade-off but you have to go where you’re needed, right?  More on creative writing in another post.

 I had the blessing of funding and support to do a research project about 7 years ago which allowed me to test my hypothesis that grade 9 literacy intervention would prevent behaviour and lack of school engagement later in high school.  This is about the time when school to age 18 became mandatory in our province.  So what I did is I took aside students from a data point of view and thoroughly examined their Ontario Student Records (OSRs).  I found that the one thing they were most likely to have in common is that there was some sort of family trauma around grade 4 or 5.  A divorce, a death in the family, an illness, or an injury that derailed that poor kid in grade 4 or 5 affected their literacy path for the rest of their academic career.  Not surprisingly then, when we were able to do a Woodcock-Johnson test on 20 of these students, they came out as having reading skills stunted at about a grade 4 or 5 reading level.  As the teacher-librarian in chief at my school, I developed relationships with these students and peppered them with literacy attention from my end. That could be individualized help on their assignments, or simply convincing them that reading all 25 volumes of The Walking Dead was a worthy pursuit. Many of them shook my hand as they walked out the door upon graduation.  It was very satisfying.  In fact, I think I’d say that it has changed the way I think about literacy forever.

If I had to pick a winning bet on where to put the most money in Ontario’s education system today, I’d put everything down on literacy in Ontario at the intermediate level. It is the golden ticket.

My ongoing professional learning

My love affair with Mindomo continues. Here I am trying to explore the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice. I’m focusing here on just one of these standards: Ongoing Professional Learning.

https://www.mindomo.com/mindmap/beliefs-and-learning-about-our-own-writing-0586b22d3bd64316b6f45a9e97b86981

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Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

ScarboroughScarborough by Catherine Hernandez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite book that I’ve read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I enjoy reading from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen book list each year.  I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.

It’s a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children’s lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.

The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.

It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we’re kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I’ll be following Hernandez’s work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she’s written. I can’t say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.

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West and back: Animal spotting in Montana

We woke up in an average hotel in Hamilton, Montana and began our last leg towards Yellowstone. We followed the Bitterroot river for sometime in and out of the mountains until we were suddenly in grassland.  I screamed to a halt when I saw a large herd of deer-like creatures milling around to our left.  We later found out from a Yellowstone park ranger that these animals are the Pronghorn antelope in Montana.  We found them sporadically in Yellowstone National Park too, but never in the size of herd that we found them here.
As usual, Tim took this photograph of Max and I gaping at their sproingy, curious yet skittish behaviour.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

HabibiHabibi by Craig Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic novelist Craig Thompson first launched into my world having written Blankets. Habibi is not new but it is a clear favourite of one of my favourite students (I know we’re not supposed to have favourites) whose family moved here from Nepal just as she was starting grade 9. She said “Mrs. King you have to promise me that you will read this book this summer.” So I did.

Main character Dodola, an orphan, a child-bride, a slave, a prostitute, latches onto another orphan named Zam. Together they try to struggle through a horrible desert existence finding their love (habibi in Arabic) through story-telling and making a home in whichever safe place they can. Dodola and Zam are separated and escape their harsh realities by remembering the cozy life that they had built together, always thinking of each other and wishing to return to this comfort. The book is epic, and filled with Thompson’s beautiful and devotional attention to bringing the stories to life through exquisite detail in the drawings.

Like Blankets, Habibi is in my secondary school library with a red sticker on it, warning readers that the content and graphics are for mature readers only. Unlike Blankets, Habibi isn’t really about sex…it’s about rape and prostitution and I could compare some of the themes to Margaret Atwood‘s book The Edible Woman, in which the women are pretty much consumed by patriarchy. There is a Westernized exoticism of the culture, the locale of the setting, and especially of the incomparable beauty of Dodola that strikes me as appropriation, if not plagiarism. There I said it. It’s beautiful, it’s well-executed, but is this Thompson’s story to tell? There are credits to the mentors that Thompson used for accuracy. Perhaps this is why Thompson has faded away himself. For the sake of my devoted student, I will keep my comments about Habibi focused on the positive.

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School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6 – 12 by Leslie Preddy

School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12 by Leslie B Preddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a secondary librarian, without planning time, without my own students focused on design/construction/creativity, I’m launching a full-time makerspace this fall that is filled with mostly donated items from the now-extinct home economics and fashion programs at my school. We have a severe shortage of electricity because we were built when libraries contained only books and the occasional microfiche reader. Nonetheless, after successfully executing at least 1 makerspace per semester for the first two years, I’m confident that a full-time makerspace will bring two qualities to my library learning commons (LLC) culture that I struggle to maintain on a daily basis: creativity and community. What I mean by that is that libraries were made for consuming information and to truly understand the nature of manufacturing/designing/inventing we need to shift to becoming as much creators as we are consumers….in life, in general, for all people, but certainly for the students in my LLC. The other thing that students (if not all people) are sorrily missing is community. They need to have places to hang out and learn from each other while enjoying the company. Flashback to the quilting bee, the hunt club, or as I experienced it, the 4-H homemaking club.

So with these ideas already in mind, I approached this book, particularly excited because it’s aimed at grades 6 – 12 whereas so many other resources on makerspaces are targeted at elementary folks. I purchased the book after having listened to author Leslie Preddy speak at a library research conference called Treasure Mountain in Connecticut a few years back. Maybe I read it already, maybe I’ve picked up most of what Preddy has to say through other means, but I found that for a book devoted to secondary makerspaces, that it was lacking in innovation. I suppose what I wanted most was to feel a reassuring hug with a few sure-fire strategies for success and didn’t. In fact most of the book is devoted to Pinterest-style pages of what to do with very little. I already thought of that.

The meat of this book is in the first 8 pages where Preddy suggests creating library-style pathfinders with instruction videos on how to get started. This is an idea I’ll definitely take away. She suggests that signage and mentoring are the best ways to get students started. She also says that it might take some time for students to move to independent experimentation and to just keep the students coming back and soon it will take off. She briefly mentions some sort of badging or achievement system where students can move from novice to mentor, but doesn’t really expand on it.

I’ll be continuing my quest for secondary makerspace guidance as Preddy’s book, for me and my needs, fell short of the mark.

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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and HoneyMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who writes an internationally-acclaimed book of poems in the year 2018? Rupi Kaur does. I’ve had this book in my secondary school library for a year now and this summer was my first opportunity to get my hands on it. When I’ve asked how my senior students are enjoying it, they look at me with a combination of melancholy and knowing that once I’ve read this tome, that my soul will be appeased. Rupi’s book is divided into 4 sections and ranges in style from simple couplets to rants. The collection is punctuated by her very artistic doodles…sometimes realistic, and sometimes abstract. Largely it describes her past and her ability to choose bad partners which might stem from the abuse that she suffered as a child. The last chapter is optimistic though as Rupi learns to express through her pain through poetry. I’ve highlighted 4 short passages to take into my creative writing class this year as I’m sure that it will appeal to my grade 12s. Even though there is some graphic content, I can lead my students to read more on their own with a few teasers.

I’m out of the target demographic for sure on this book, but I can still appreciate how it is crafted, released in a small, manageable chunk, and has mass appeal for today’s young people

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